Kind Town Blues
Kind Town Blues
A Q&A with Tina “T-Bone” Gorin
Of Jane Lee Hooker
By Geoff Gehman
Tina “T-Bone” Gorin has her dream gig in the rock/blues/punk quintet Jane Lee Hooker, which seriously troubles the waters of such standards as “Wade in the Water,” the spiritual bible, and “Mean Town Blues,” Johnny Winter’s turbo-charged stampede. She loves playing lead/rhythm guitar with her longtime six-string partner Tracy “Hightop” Almazan, who shares her love of Skynyrd/Stones 12-string lick swapping, weaving, knifing, dicing, splicing and dueling. She loves her band mates on and off the stage, so much so, in fact, that she’d even vacation with them, a rare tribute among road warriors.
Gorin will continue her dream on Friday, March 11, when Jane Lee Hooker puts a comfortable hurting on the Mauch Chunk Opera House. The New Yorkers will sample their first studio album, “No B!” (Ruf Records), which contains the likes of Otis Redding’s “Free Me” and Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer.” In the conversation below Gorin, a native Long Islander, discusses how the record siphons the spirit of a favorite Waters-and-Winter LP, how she and Almazan have bonded so tightly, and how a non-question about gender can produce a great answer about musical equality.
Q: I’ve read that a friend of a friend taught you guitar during a camping trip. How old were you then and what did you learn?
A: I was 21 and I knew nothing except a few open chords, but I was determined to really learn how to play. It can seem complicated learning an instrument, knowing theory and everything, but just like anything in school, if the teacher isn’t good, knowledge just isn’t going to get into you and stay there. My teacher on that trip explained the guitar exactly the right way to a beginner. He went over the strings and the scales. I watched him play and he showed me all the notes over the neck and the position of each chord. He even drew something on a piece of paper.
I couldn’t wait to get home. After that trip, I played for hours and hours and hours without eating. It was fantastic because I had time back then. Life is different now. I still practice a lot but I don’t have time for eight hours in my living room. Yeah, those were the good days. These are good days, too. What can I say–I love my band.
Q: You’ve spoken about wearing out the batteries on your cassette player while trying to lay down Johnny Winter’s guitar licks. Why did his music stick to your fingers, ears and soul?
A: I listened constantly to his studio stuff, his live stuff. I used to see him in the late ’80s and all through the ’90s. I went by myself because no one wanted to go with me. I was the only one among my friends who was into him; everyone else was into harder rock. Back then he was just on fire. I was in complete awe of his flawless playing, his turnarounds, the way he kept this high level of intensity, whether it was a slow blues or the more up-tempo stuff. I would go home and replay his licks over and over and over. I’d just rewind the cassette player because it was just so entertaining and mind boggling
Q: You and Hightop told producer Matt Chiaravalle that you wanted “No B!” to sound like Muddy Waters’ 1977 album “Hard Again,” which was produced by your main man, Mr. Winter. Why is “Hard Again” such a benchmark for you two?
A: I wore that album out. I just loved the whole complete idea, the whole vibe. I was inspired by two masters coming together, and by their admiration and inspiration for each other. When we decided to get this band together, we tried and threw out so many lues songs We discarded a lot of things when we were putting together this record, too. We wanted a wide range of dynamics, not just 1-4-5. We wanted to make the songs more dynamic so when we played them live, our show could be entertaining and on fire.
Q: You and Hightop have been band mates, on and off, since the late ’90s. What makes you two such true-blue comrades?
A: Well, we both love the blues and we both love playing with each other. When she told me “I have a great idea: we should start a blues band,” I jumped on it, of course. I love her friendship and I like to be around her. It’s deeper than the music. It’s the person she is, her humor and just her basic quality of character. So it was a no-brainer [to launch Jane Lee Hooker]. We started out thinking it would be fun to play a few fun shows in bars. And then it quickly became clear that we were on a bigger mission.
Q: Hightop has said that you’re one of her best guitar teachers, that you helped convince her to get rid of the pedals and the distortion and simplify the whole game. What have you learned from her?
A: Oh, so much. I love her songwriting, her attack on the guitar. her soulful playing, the way she feeds the whole band; the notes she plays make it very easy to turn a song into a jam. I love her deep, true love for music and her taste in music; her taste level is second to none. We both love the Stones and Skynyrd; we both love big guitarists and trading licks.
There are guitar players who are fantastic, including my friends, who may not know how to play off a guitar—you know, this is time for your solo; this is time to go at it with another guitar. That may not be everybody’s thing, and that’s perfectly fine. When you love something that much, you recognize it in another person. The free-form jams we do are all improvised. We don’t write a single thing. I don’t think we’ve played anything the same way twice. It takes a lot of chemistry with someone to improvise a five-minute jam. Bottom line, we just trust each other.
Q: When you were in Helldorado did you really go through 25 different drummers? That sounds like a scenario even the makers of “This Is Spinal Tap” couldn’t have dreamed up.
A: I don’t know the exact number but it felt like 25. The really good ones were in other bands, so we had to keep borrowing drummers. The ones who wanted to join us were either musically or personally not as good as we wanted them to be. It just took its toll on us.
That’s why I appreciate, and love, playing with and being around [drummer Melissa] “Cool Whip” [Houston] so much. She’s an enormous talent and the most reliable person. She takes what she does seriously and yet she’s such a quality person. I wonder what I did right to deserve such a gem.
Q: What was your toughest time in the music trade, when you felt that maybe music wasn’t your calling after all?
A: I never thought of giving up music because I really didn’t have a lot to gain by giving up music. The band I was in before this one [Bad Wizard] toured a lot and I loved it. At one point I had given up a little bit of hope of finding the same situation. It’s hard to find a group of people that dedicated, who are willing to put their lives on the line. I was resigned to the fact that maybe I’d get together with a friend and play locally. Luckily for me, everyone in this band is dedicated to touring, to putting their lives on the line. So I don’t have to pine away for the good old days on the road.
Q: What was your happiest time in the music trade, when you felt ahead of the curve and behind the eight ball?
A: It’s right now. The road is hard. Being in a band is not easy typically but I didn’t know how easy it could possibly be to communicate and to get along with the women I’m playing with now. We have such a solid friendship foundation and so much good humor. I’d rather be with them than anyone else in the world—besides my dear parents, of course. I’d even go on vacation with these girls if we weren’t playing music. It’s too good to be true but it is.
Q: I hate asking boringly obvious questions because they’re likely to produce boringly obvious answers. For example, the only time I asked Jonathan Edwards about his big hit “Sunshine” was when I asked him how he felt about not being asked about “Sunshine” for the umpteenth time. So, Tina, how would you feel if I didn’t write what you’re used to reading, that Jane Lee Hooker is an all-female band?
A: Wow, how refreshing. I can’t wait to tell everybody else in the band that you said that. I’ve been asked so many times about what it’s like being a female musician. What I really want to say is that I know what it’s like to be a female musician but I’ve never been a male musician, so I have nothing to compare. I can tell you that we’ve never felt discriminated against or treated as second-class citizens. If we had been I would have noticed. We’re just having fun playing rock and roll and blues. We have nothing to complain about.
I’ve always wondered what it must be like to be a male musician because there are so many male musicians. The competition must be fierce; male musicians have a plight, too.
Tina “T-Bone” Gorin: The Scoop
The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” was her first unforgettable song. “I could have been two or three when I first heard it. My mother was a Beatles fan and that’s all she played around the house. I just pulled [“Please Please Me”] out of my head; I hope I’m remembering right. I do know that even babies respond to the Beatles. Their songs are just so personal and timeless.”
Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” was the first blues song that stuck to her like honey. “I was seven or eight when I first heard it at my uncle’s house. Howlin’ Wolf’s voice was just creepy and scary and I loved it. Poor child.”
She and Tracy “Hightop” Almazan once played in Spermicide.
At the top of her communal Bucket List is writing better songs, selling more records, playing for bigger crowds and improving as musicians. At the top of her personal Bucket List is opening for Bob Dylan.
At the top of her Fuck It List is Donald Trump being embarrassed “on a world stage. I’d like to see him in tears. Sorry that I’m so mean but he aggravates me so much. He’s giving voice to people who have shit for brains, who should be raised again by their parents.”
“People have been calling me ‘T-Bone’ since I was a teenager. I’ve been called that by friends, co-workers, even strangers. I have no idea why. Before I started calling myself ‘T-Bone” I was shocked that they called me that. I’m less shocked now that it’s in print.”
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. He never gets tired of watching “This Is Spinal Tap.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.